Chris Ash - Smartest Guy in the Room
Oh, you thought it would be Urban Meyer? Sure, he's the smartest guy in the room, if by "smartest" you mean "loneliest" and if the room is a golf cart. No, the smartest guy in the room is also the last one to arrive at the party: Chris Ash. Why is he the smartest guy in the room? Well, because he has to be if the Buckeyes are going to regain their rightful spot atop the B1G.*
The defensive woes of the supposed national championship-caliber Ohio State squad of 2013 are legion. Whether you're a loyal Buckeye, or hate one, you're no doubt aware that the Luke Fickell-led defense left much to be desired (actual defense, namely). Such a dismal state of affairs prompted the swift arrival of Mr. Ash from the clutches of Bert and his cellar-dwelling Razorbacks.
Ash is no stranger to struggling defenses, nor to the B1G. It is true that he comes into his first season in Columbus with the stink of feral hog on him, but his association with the laughing stock of the SEC is a direct result of his successes under Big Bert at Wisconsin. Of course, nothing Bert touches could ever be completely stench-free. Accordingly, Ash has been the target of significant skepticism for the failings of his defense at Arkansas. The Razorbacks were fairly abysmal on the tackling side of the ball. At one point, they surrendered 111 points over three games. That being said, his squad also held Auburn to 35 points--a fact that does bear mentioning in light of Auburn's entire body of work from last season.
Be that as it may, it might seem surprising to choose Ash as the wunderkind of the B1G's premiere program--especially one with Urban Meyer and Tom Herman on staff. Consider the following, though: prior to the disaster that is the Bertification of Arkansas, the Wisconsin defense ranked 15th nationally in total defense and 18th in pass defense. The Badger secondary only gave away 196 Y/G through the air. By contrast, the 2013 Ohio State defense finished the season at 110th in pass defense, having stood idly by while opponents played pitch & catch to the tune of 269 Y/G.
Ash was instrumental in a Badger defense that led the B1G was third in the NCAA in three-and-out percentage. His schemes helped force opponents into punting on their fourth play of a possession a whopping 41% of the time. That's an astounding statistic. Better yet, though, is the aforementioned stinginess of his secondary. When third & long comes around, the pass coverage makes or breaks the defense. Clearly, he knows how to make.
Chris Ash is a backfield guy. He lives and breathes aggressive, smothering pass coverage. If you were above ground last year and even flipped past an OSU game, you are likely hip to the fact that such aggressive schemes are the antithesis of the 2013 Buckeye secondary. Fickell had the personnel to run press/man coverages well, but chose to sit in zone coverages so soft they looked like a La-Z-Boy sales circular. The result was that the Human Miscue (Devin Gardner) amassed more passing yards in one game than probably the rest of his career combined.
The days of the Buckeyes sitting ten yards off the ball and getting picked apart by even the most pathetic of QBs should be behind them now. Expect an immediate impact out of Ash in the form of press, press, and more press out of the corners. The linebacking corps--a big question mark currently--should find themselves burning some extra calories on blitzes (do folks in Columbus even remember what a blitz is?).
Larry Johnson - Runner Up
The Kato to Chris Ash's Green Hornet, Larry Johnson is the paterfamilias of the new defensive staff based on age and wealth of experience alone. After years at Penn State, he finally made the leap to program whose reputation wasn't built on cowardly independent status and hanging 70 points on Temple. Johnson is as solid a defensive line coach as there is in the game, and an equally talented recruiter. He'll have his hands full of talent with the return of the entire starting defensive line from last season (the only unit on the D-side that had a pot to piss in all year).
With Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington, and Noah Spence at his disposal, along with a deep slate of backup talent for rotations, it'll be hard for Johnson not to look like a genius. After all, this is a squad that produced 42 sacks last year--a season in which every opposing receiver was wide open from snap to whistle. A powerful front four with dynamic pass-rushing capability will only serve to bolster the strength of Ash's aggressive coverage packages.
I doubt he does much chauffeuring, though.
Tom Herman - Dunce Cap
4th and 2 in Indianapolis and you don't give it to Hyde? Go clap the erasers until you have mesothelioma.**
* The rightfulness of this spot cannot be argued until some other team from the B1G can do something consistently besides lose the Rose Bowl (Wisconsin), hire the worst coaches money can buy (Illinois) or, I dunno, win a share of six Big Ten titles in a row.
** I do not actually want Tom Herman, or anyone else, to contract mesothelioma.